Good Order in the Church

(This may be an actual letter from Paul, as it appears, or a redaction of Paul's writings arranged as if Paul had written to Crete -- much as modern preachers and authors will use Biblical material to create a letter to modern churches. There is literary evidence for both views.)

1:1-4 Salutation

The first verses of the letter bring greetings from Paul to Titus and set the tone of the whole work. The unusual feature of this salutation is the long theological statement (verses 2-3) inserted between the identification of Paul as the sender and the naming of Titus as the addressee.
In these verses, we are given an outline of the themes which will be visited in the rest of the letter:
  • servanthood (see 1:5, 3:1, 3:8, 3:14)
  • teaching truth (1:9, 2:15)
  • God's promise (2:11ff, 3:7)
  • common faith (1:15, 3:10).
Oddly, though, there is nothing here to prepare us for this letter's emphasis on living a life beyond criticism.

1:5-16 Good order in the church

5 Titus had been given the task of bringing some order to the church in Crete. This implies that a basic level of evangelization had been completed and that groups of Christians were scattered across the region. (We have no record of this mission work. Paul's only recorded visit to Crete, in Acts 27, occurred while under arrest and on his way to Rome and martyrdom. This is one argument for the redaction hypothesis.)
5-9 The central task is identified to be the appointment of leaders for the church. The leader should have good character and be a disciplined person as well as being well grounded in Christian teaching. These attributes are needed to provide strong moral leadership.
10-14 Strong leadership is essential because the church is being confused and divided by erroneous teaching. These errors seem to come from people who have not given up material desires or comfortable traditions for Christ's truth.
The question about Cretans seems rather harsh, especially from a non-native. Perhaps the situation was so terrible that such a tone was appropriate, or perhaps the saying had become proverbial and carried connotations we no longer recognize. (The "prophet" has been identified as Epimenides of Knosses, a poet of the 6th century BCE.)
15-16 Purity is a matter of the inner person, not specific actions. This has always been Paul's message. But if what a person does shows disobedience to God, that person is disqualified from service.

Ch. 2-3 Good teaching

Good order for the church implies correct teaching. (See 2:9.) Given the situation in Crete, it seems that an emphasis on actions is necessary. It is rare for Paul to give such prominence to works and behavior, although he often mentions these topics. The following advice may have been prompted by legitimate criticism of some Christians by other Cretans.

Irreproachable behavior
2:1-10 All of the people should lead lives which are beyond any criticism. A number of specific admonitions are suggested for different groups, but the recurring theme is to use good sense so that others will view Christians as good people.
11-14 The underlying reason for such an attitude is not a desire for wordly approval, but just te opposite: Since God has given us a new and better hope, we have no need for lording it over others or trying to create some kind of personal justice for ourselves. Christians are able to forego short-term gains in the certainty of long-term rewards.
15 Titus should teach this point of view forcefully and confidently.
A sermon outline
3:1-7 These verses outline the message in a form that could be used as the basis for a sermon: Be good citizens and neigbors. After all, we were mistaken ourselves and have no right to be judgemental. God's love appeared and washed us clean; it was not anything we did. It may be that part of this (especially verses 4-7) is an extract or paraphrase of a hymn or liturgy. Paul is fond of taking such summaries of faith and including them in his letters, and the separate affirmation of it in verse 8 suggests an origin outside of the composition of this letter.
Advice for the preacher
3:8-11 The teaching outlined is something to be believed. Giving emphasis to these matters will give rise to efforts which are good and fitting, which help people. On the other hand, getting involved in worthless arguments does no good to anyone. Titus is advised to offer an opening to those who cause division, but by no means to let them draw him into their fights.

3:12-15 Parting Words

12-13 The letter ends with some instructions about the travels of the itinerant missionaries. Interestingly, it seems that Titus was being recalled for consultation and, perhaps, a new assignment; this may tell us about the custom of the early church -- especially if we take this letter as a later redaction of Paul's words. (Note that Paul could not have been under arrest at this time.)
14 These missionary travels provide a good opportunity to put this letter's advice into action.
15 The writer and those with him send a benediction to be shared with the faithful.

May 1993
October 1997
December 1998

Pivot Rock Ensign